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Carla Provost named Border Patrol chief. She’s the first woman to lead the agency.

Carla L. Provost, seen here during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July, is the first woman to lead to U.S. Border Patrol.
Carla L. Provost, seen here during testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July, is the first woman to lead to U.S. Border Patrol. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
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U.S. Customs and Border Protection named Carla L. Provost to lead the Border Patrol Thursday, making her the first woman to hold the agency’s top job in its 94-year history.

The announcement was not a surprise, as Provost has been the Border Patrol’s acting chief for more than a year. She will oversee 20,000 agents as well as the Trump administration’s effort to construct a border wall and clamp down on illegal migration.

Only about 5 percent of U.S. border agents are women, and Provost, 48, said her appointment would send a signal to potential recruits at a time when the agency has struggled to meet its hiring goals and retain its workforce.

“There are many women who have paved the way for me getting here,” she said. “I may be the first female chief of the Border Patrol but I am certain I will not be the last.”

Provost’s promotion comes days after 30-year Border Patrol veteran Ronald D. Vitiello was nominated by President Trump to be the next director of U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement. Vitiello had been in charge of the Border Patrol in the role of acting deputy commissioner of CBP.

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CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan announced Provost’s appointment, which does not require Senate confirmation, while praising her in a brief ceremony as “an agent’s agent.”

“Her career has been marked by a tendency to take on most challenging roles in most challenging areas of our border, and our agency,” he said. “She’s come up through the ranks, earned each new role with hard work, perseverance and a willingness to do whatever the Border Patrol asks of her to advance the mission.”

The Border Patrol has more than quadrupled in size during Provost’s career, and Trump’s border security proposals include provisions to add 5,000 additional agents. Provost said she would focus on recruitment and retention in her leadership role, noting the challenge of attracting qualified candidates willing to spend long hours patrolling remote desert areas, typically alone.

“Our attrition rate has gone down,” she said. “And we’re looking at other retention incentives.”

A native of Burlingame, Kansas (population 934), Provost was working as a police officer when she joined the Border Patrol in 1995. She was deployed to the border town of Douglas, Ariz., and assigned to a bicycle patrol unit.

“Bike patrol was incredible,” Provost said in a biographical statement. “I was getting paid to go chase down drugs, chase down smugglers and other bad guys, ride a bike and get exercise every day and stay in shape … and it was fun.”

She remained in Douglas for 11 years before moving to Yuma, Ariz., El Paso, and El Centro, Calif., as she rose through the ranks.

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Provost offered few specifics Thursday when asked what changes or improvements she would like to bring to the Border Patrol. But she echoed calls by Homeland Security Secretary Kirsjten Nielsen to “close some of these loopholes that are drawing people to bring their families and to bring children across a very treacherous trip to this country.”

The Trump administration launched a “zero tolerance” prosecution campaign this spring that led to the separation of more than 2,500 migrant parents and children until a public uproar brought the practice to a halt. A federal judge has ordered the government to reunite the families, including more than 400 parents who were deported without their children.